U.S. Qualifying Roster Selection

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC, MLS), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids, MLS), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake, MLS)

DEFENDERS (9): DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo, MLS), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City, MLS), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City, EPL), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca, Liga MX), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas, MLS), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest, English Championship), Tim Ream (Fulham, English Championship), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna, Liga MX), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City, MLS)

MIDFIELDERS (9): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas, MLS), Paul Arriola (D.C. United, MLS), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union, MLS), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC, MLS), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach, Bundesliga), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire, MLS), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers, MLS), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund, Bundesliga), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC, MLS)

FORWARDS (5): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC, MLS), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC, MLS), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC, MLS), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes, MLS), Bobby Wood (Hamburg, Bundesliga)

What we can learn from this about what to expect in 2018

GOALKEEPERS 

Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC, MLS), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids, MLS), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake, MLS)

There was never a real question about Tim Howard’s place in this line up. He has been the best goalkeeper for the US for a long time. What we didn’t and still don’t know is who is next. I think Arena speaks volumes with his Rimando selection that he has not been impressed with Bill Hamid or Ethan Horvath to see them challenge Guzan for the backup role. Hamid’s team is in the basement in MLS while Horvath’s team is in first having only allowed 3 goals in 5 games.

As we continue to see Arena tends to favor experience and MLS players if he’s unsure of the other players qualities. I continue to not understand this mentality. It could be invaluable for the next generation to prepare with Howard and Guzan and gain experience from how they prepare and train for these international matches.

Apparently no one else has really caught Arena’s attention as he has gone back to the same three that Klinsmann so often relied upon. Rimando is no doubt a great goalkeeper, but having three aged MLS keepers doesn’t bode well for our long term development.

DEFENDER 

DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo, MLS), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City, MLS), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City, EPL), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca, Liga MX), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas, MLS), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest, English Championship), Tim Ream (Fulham, English Championship), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna, Liga MX), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City, MLS)

This is a tough group to evaluate because of the injuries at two key positions: John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin being injured at center back and right back leave gaping holes in a shaky back-line that under performed at the gold cup. Geoff Cameron should bring a rock solid performance to middle and leadership qualities that were obviously lacking this summer.

Around him remains a mystery. Both Besler and Gonzalez bring experience and trust, I am confident one of those two will play alongside Cameron in the middle. After them the depth chart is a little murky. Hedges seems to have shown something to Arena, many were discouraged by his poor performance, Matt Miatzga, Erik Palmer-Brown and other young hopeful it seems will have to wait for their turn to break into the lineup.

This past Spring left back looked to be Villafaña’s to lose, but a poor performance at Gold Cup opens up questions, but the question remains if not him than who? I expect him to start, though we did see Beasley get a chance against Mexico and Arena may have more surprises, including a similar lineup (using the 5-3-2) as what he showed against Mexico.

Based on his use during Gold Cup I expect Zusi to get the start, though I expect and hope Lichaj is pushing him for the role as he is now in season and in form for his English club. Zusi is an experience player, but outside of that has shown me very little in his performances that he brings real value in this role either defensively or in attack. I think Lichaj with experience will be a more solid backup behind Yedlin next summer. Timmy Chandler’s continued exclusion will be celebrated by some US fans, but others will wonder how he might have performed under Arena. Again MLS players will seemingly get the nod over European in the starting lineup.

The overall outlook is bleak as far as depth goes for next summer, we have to hope our starters are all healthy for 2018.

MIDFIELDERS

Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas, MLS), Paul Arriola (D.C. United, MLS), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union, MLS), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC, MLS), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach, Bundesliga), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire, MLS), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers, MLS), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund, Bundesliga), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders FC, MLS)

This group was pretty predictable based on what we’ve seen so far this year and from Arena’s selections. I expect the midfield to be exactly the same as Gold Cup with the addition of super star Pulisic  playing either in the middle or wing. Pulisic will join Bradley and Nagbe and depending on health and formation it’ll likely start out as Arriola on the right wing. If they take a more defensive approach it could be Acosta joining this group. Johnson isn’t 100% yet, but may join the starters as he continues to heal. I don’t expect any surprise starts from the rest of the midfield.

One key omission that many were extremely disappointed by at Gold Cup is Danny Williams, who’s club Hudderfield has entered the Premier League and gone undefeated through three games so far. However, the argument could also be made he’s on the bench now and not getting quality minutes so his game fitness will surely be tested against the likes of Costa Rica. Lynden Gooch scored his first goal in the English Championship league for club Sunderland over the weekend. I would have liked to see him in the mix, but not sure a fresh face would break in here. The 21 year old’s speed will be missed. I think Julian Green is officially off of Arena’s radar at this point for next summer. Emmerson Hyndman, Weston McKinnie,  and some other hopefuls are just not getting enough reps or call ups to their teams to really be relevant at this point in the 2018 march.

Many will be glad the Gyasi Zardes experiment is over, others might have liked to see Kelyn Rowe here, but his injury made that decision easy. It is good to see Roldan here as I feared we might see a Jermaine Jones or Kyle Beckerman make a surprise appearance, but Arena likes the young player who’s having a stellar club season. It’ll be good for him to get some reps with the senior players.

FORWARDS

Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC, MLS), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC, MLS), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC, MLS), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes, MLS), Bobby Wood (Hamburg, Bundesliga)

As in the midfield, no real surprises here. Bobby Wood is the standout for me of this group and Dempsey as our super sub, but it’s yet to be seen what formation and who Arena favors now that the Europeans are back in the mix. The question remains if Dempsey comes off the bench, an Altidore/Wood or Morris/Wood experiment is attempted and what Arena’s final mindset is as far as formation goes.

Wondolowski probably makes many fans cringe who were relieved to see him left off during Gold Cup, but he’s had a solid season in MLS and another veteran that Arena trusts. I would have liked to see CJ Sapong crack this list, he leads all US players in goals with 12 so far in his club campaign in the MLS. That puts him ahead of all forwards on this list including Altidore and Wondolowski.

Don Dwyer changed nations this summer in an attempt to get on Arena’s radar. He has since been traded to Orlando which seems to have stalled his improvement. He was probably always on the outside looking in with Arena favoring Morris, but it is an unfortunate development for one who many were excited might join the ranks of the squad for next summer. Juan Agudelo was also on the outside looking in and once again seems to not have done enough at Gold Cup to push this list.

There are no real healthy standouts in Europe or they are buried too deep to be considered at this point – those like Haji Wright, Terrance Boyd, Aron Johannsson, Jerome Kiesewetter, Rubio Rubin and others just aren’t realistic choices at this point. Josh Sargant is a pipe dream. I think we have the group (when healthy) that will be going to Russia in 2018, most likely sans Wondolowski.

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